Review: The Black Book by James Patterson & David Ellis

Black Book.pngThe Black Book is a tightly-plotted and pacy thriller, the likes of which we haven’t seen from the super-prolific James Patterson in many years. It’s a well-woven tale of corruption and duplicity, with engaging characters and an inventive structure.

The novel opens with Detective Patti Harney and her father, a high-ranking figure in the Chicago PD, arriving at a crime scene involving her twin brother, Detective Billy Harney. He’s been shot and left for dead in the bedroom of assistant state attorney Amy Lentini, who is herself DOA from a gunshot wound to the head, alongside Billy’s partner, Detective Kate Fenton. Which begs the questions: Who shot who? And why? It’s obviously connected to the raid Billy led into an apartment building he was certain was operating as a sex club to the Chicago elite, and to the missing black book that served as a record of everyone who had entered and exited the brownstone.

The narrative flashes backwards and forwards, to before and after the shooting, building in suspense and momentum, until the truth is revealed. Billy’s initial memory loss seems a tad cliched and convenient, but it works, and isn’t overplayed. And while veteran mystery readers might identify the true perpetrators of the crime early on in proceedings, there’s more than enough here to keep pages turning, and readers tuned in until the very end. The Black Book pulses with excitement, and with Billy Harney, James Patterson and David Ellis have created a hero worth following to hell and back.

ISBN: 9781780895321
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Fall by Tristan Bancks

Fall Tristan Bancks.jpgThe Fall is the kind of thriller I would’ve loved as a child and absolutely adored as an adult. It’s a sharp, contemporary crime novel with classic genre elements, and nail-biting suspense that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. It’s a page-turning masterpiece for readers young and old.

As is the case with all great crime novels, the set-up is simple. In the middle of the night, Sam — son of irascible crime reporter Harry — is woken by angry voices from the apartment above. He edges to the window, to check the scene above, and sees a body fall from the sixth-floor balcony. When Sam goes to wake his father, he discovers Harry is gone. And when Sam gets downstairs, the body has vanished.  But Sam knows what he saw — and worse for him, somebody else knows what he witnessed. Someone who wants Sam silenced at any cost.

The Fall is a pulse-pounding thriller with the heart and soul so often missing from its contemporaries. The strained relationship between Sam and Harry — and indeed Sam and his mother — is truly evocative, and adds a powerful emotional layer to proceedings; but never at the expense of the plot’s raw pace, which rips along phenomenally.

Tristan Bancks has concocted a thriller that has everything you could ask for – a twisty plot, memorable characters, and plenty of action. If there’s a child in your life who has been glancing at the line of Michael Connelly novels on your shelf, or skimming through your Raymond Chandler collection, put a copy of The Fall in their hands.

ISBN: 9780143783053
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s Books
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 29-May-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

 

Review: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

9781409168751.jpgDaniel Cole’s debut crime novel Ragdoll isn’t quite as dynamic as the sum of its parts, which isn’t to say it doesn’t provide a few hours of solid entertainment, just that it lacks the polish of some of his A-Grade contemporaries. London-based Detective William Oliver Layton-Fawkes — otherwise known as Wolf — has potential as a long-running series character, but needs more fleshing out before I’m able to decide whether he’s an ingenious concoction, or a caricature of all the damaged cop characters the genre is teeming in.

Ragdoll opens with the discovery of a corpse comprised of six different victims stitched together like a puppet. As the police begin the unenviable task of identifying the victims, the Ragdoll Killer unveils to the media the names of six people he intends on murdering, and the dates on which they will die. The final name of that list is Wolf’s.

It’s a cool premise, not fully developed. Ragdoll should be laced with tension as the deadline to each victim’s murder approaches; we should be scared for them, and chewing our fingernails as we wonder how  — or if — Wolf and his partner, Baxter, can possibly stop this irrepressible killer in time. But there’s none of that; the Ragdoll Killer’s intended victims are portrayed as little more than cardboard cutouts; easy fodder for the killer, and there’s very little ratcheting of tension or upping of the stakes. It’s not necessarily the fault of the plot, rather the bland prose, which is why the final twist lands with a dull thud. It’s not that the ingredients for a truly special crime thriller aren’t there; just that they haven’t been mixed correctly.

Ragdoll will likely find itself some love in airport lounges across the globe. With its high body-count and unswerving narrative, it’ll be gobbled up by readers looking to eat up a few hours, and I’m a firm advocate for the “airport read,” so readers shouldn’t take that remark as overtly derisive. It’s an art form in itself.

The biggest issue with Ragdoll is that it feels very much like a first novel. A few tweaks here and there, maybe a tougher edit, and it might well have earned a place as one of 2017’s must-read crime thrillers. As it stands, it’s an OK debut by an author who has shown enough promise to warrant a second examination come 2018, or whenever the second Wolf novel hits shelves.

ISBN: 9781409168751
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Trapeze
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 23-Feb-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty

9781781256923.jpgIf the previous Sean Duffy novels earned Adrian McKinty the right to belly up to the bar alongside Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and the other contemporary crime writing greats, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly guarantees his place at the table forevermore. This is a sophisticated, stylish and engrossing crime thriller, which rips along at a cracking pace, and packs more twists and turns than a street map of Belfast. Not to mention the heart-stopping climax…

Belfast 1988: a drug dealer is found murdered in front of his house, killed with a bolt from a crossbow. Sean Duffy, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is called to investigate. Now a family man – girlfriend and baby daughter living at home – Duffy is initially grateful to be working a homicide; something a tad spicier than his recent fare. But solving this case leads Duffy to a confrontation with the dangerous villains he’s ever faced; the kind who won’t just be satisfied ending his life, but those he cares for most deeply. Duffy remains a superbly drawn character, sardonic yet assured, and now struggling to cope with his new responsibilities as a father. 

McKinty writes laconic, sophisticated, well-paced thrillers, and Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is his most refined novel yet. Some authors make you laugh; others make you gasp. McKinty can do both, usually in the space of a couple of paragraphs. His latest is multifaceted, layered, and intense – the kind of novel you’ll blow through in one sitting.

In the past, when interrogated on my favourite crime writers by friends, family, and indeed customers at Pages & Pages, I’ve always said McKinty is up there with the best writers in the business. With Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly he has set down a potentially unsurpassable marker.

Check out Jon Page’s Review!

My thanks to Seventh Street Books for providing a digital proof copy for review.

ISBN: 9781781256923
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Serpent’s Tail
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Marshall’s Law by Ben Sanders

9781760294892.jpgAmerican Blood introduced Marshall Grade, a former NYPD detective, who worked undercover trying to dismantle a particularly vicious crime syndicate, until his cover was blown, and he was forced into Witness Protection. But such was the reach of Marshall’s enemies, he sublet his WITSEC safe-house (much to the chagrin of his handler, Lucas Cohen) in order to circumvent any possible paper trail, and lived under the radar in Albuquerque, until he was forced back into action, and back into the limelight. The result was a stylish, action-packed thriller, which begged for a sequel. And here we have it: Marshall’s Law.

This time round, Sanders’ comparison to Elmore Leonard — John Sanford, too, I think — is more than justified. While Marshall is the titular character, and a hero in the Jack Reacher mould — easy to root for, wholly capable of dismantling any threat without breaking into too much of a sweat — the ensemble cast is intrinsic to this novel’s success. Lucas Cohen makes another appearance — indeed, it’s his attempted kidnap that sparks Marshall’s Law into life, and the question his would-be captors ask: Where’s Marshall?

He’s back in New York, actually — trying to start afresh, still shadowed by his violent past. But he can’t do nothing in the face of a potential threat, which is what he believes the attack on Cohen signifies. So he starts to investigate, and quickly discovers he’s the target of a corrupt businessman named Dexter Vine, who is in debt to some very bad people, and has hired Ludo Coltrane to find Marshall at any cost, who himself brings in Perry Rhode s to assist, whose willingness to be a trigger man can’t overshadow his potential liability to the Vine / Coltrane operation.

Sanders flicks between these characters’ perspectives, building a head of steam, ratcheting up the tension, and bringing the cast together in a wonderfully brutal and bloody climax. Trouble is, there’s not much of a muchness between Cohen, Marshall, Coltrane, Vine and Rhodes. Sure, they’ve diverging desires and backgrounds, but ultimately, they’re boilerplate tough guys. There’s nothing empathic about any of them, or anything particularly quirky or offbeat. That was Leonard’s mastery: taking a formula and embellishing it with his trademark zaniness and humour.

Bullet-holes and body-blows abound in Marshall’s Law. It’s a tightly-constructed, stylish and effective thriller, which confirms Ben Sanders as one of the new generation of thriller writers to watch.

ISBN: 9781760294892
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Escape Clause by John Sandford

Escape Clause Sandford.jpgA while back, Virgil Flowers was just a supporting character in John Sandford’s long-running Prey series. He’d help Lucas Davenport out on an investigation, then fade into the background again until Sandford revived him for another cameo appearance. But here we are now, with Escape Clause, the ninth book in the Flowers series, and perhaps the best, thanks to its fresh take on a traditional plotline. This time around, Virgil is hunting a group of thieves, who have stolen rather precious loot from the Minnesota Zoo: two Amur tigers, whose bodies could be mined for various remedies. Question is, can Flowers apprehend the thieves before the tigers are killed?

Whenever I think about my favourite crime writers, I always overlook Sanford, which is a serious injustice on my part. Sandford’s novels aren’t ground-breaking, but they are exemplary, exceptionally well-constructed, and highly polished police procedurals / thrillers. He writes the kinds of books you’ll bomb through in no time, and enjoy every second. So, what makes his novels – Escape Clause, in particular – so compulsive, then? Beyond his stark style and ability to craft brutally violent, adrenaline-pumping action scenes, it’s Sandford’s villains that truly stand out, never more evident than that of Winston Peck VI, an M.D. barred from practicing after it was discovered he was groping unconscious patients.

Make no mistake: Peck is a bad dude, but he’s not a killer. At least, he never planned to be, but as the authorities close in on him, he does what he feels he must in order to survive. If that means ending a few lives, well, so be it. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it. He’s not a psychopath. Or is he…? Some of the novel’s best moments see Peck debating his mental state, adding layers to what could’ve been a very rote villain. Lots of crime writers nail their protagonist and the puzzle that needs solving; few are as capable of conjuring such enigmatic bad guys.

Exciting, absorbing and intriguing, Escape Clause is the perfect crime thriller for this time of the year, as the weather begins to warm up, and readers are looking to wile away a few hours at the beach with an enthralling book. It’s not all flawless; there’s a secondary plot thread involving Virgil’s girlfriend’s sister, which feels very much tacked on, and a tad unnecessary – but it doesn’t overshadow the effectiveness of the ‘A’ plot.

If you’ve never read Sandford before, don’t feel put off by the fact this is the ninth entry in a series. Escape Clause is a fine place to start, and I bet it’ll have you scouring your local bookstore for Virgil Flowers’s earlier capers. Then, don’t forget, you’ve got the Lucas Davenport books to savour. Man, those of you who are new to John Sandford are in for such a treat.

ISBN: 9781471154300
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 20-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: James Patterson Bookshots – Cross Kill by James Patterson

9781786530011 (1)This bite-sized Alex Cross thriller sees the return of his long-thought-dead nemesis first introduced in Along Came a Spider, Gary Soneji.

Stories at the speed of life. All killer, no filler. The ultimate form of storytelling. These are just some of the taglines associated with James Patterson’s line of Bookshots titles. And while the latter instigates an irrepressible eyelid twitch, I’ll admit, there’s something to be said for the sheer pace of Cross Kill. As a lapsed Patterson reader, and a one-time big fan of his Alex Cross series, Cross Kill served as a nice reminder of what I enjoyed about his particular brand of storytelling all those years ago. It annihilated two hours of my evening like the snap of a finger, and so, I suppose I got what I paid for, and what was promised on the blurb.

It helps that Cross Kill flashes back to Patterson’s early Cross novels, when I was devouring them one-by-one from my father’s bookcase. Gary Soneji was Cross’s first epic villain – but he was seemingly killed more than a dozen novels ago, or more than ten years ago according to Patterson’s continuity. His return is impossible, but Cross is adamant it was Soneji who took a shot at him – and put a bullet in his partner’s head.

Unfolding at a wicked pace, there’s little meat on the bones of Cross Kill, but its events should have huge repercussions for the Alex Cross series moving forward; assuming everything’s not just swept under the rug for the next full-length novel. If you’re already a valiant Patterson reader, you’ll no doubt dig this, and it’ll sate your cravings until later in the year. If you’re not a fan, this won’t do much to persuade you to switch sides: it’s chock-full of his stylistic trappings, just thoroughly condensed, with all the nuance of a semi-trailer careening through a brick wall. But when you’ve been absorbed in gargantuan literary novels, as I have recently, this served as effective relief. And I’ll admit, I’m interested in picking up the next Cross novel to see how Patterson confronts this story’s dramatic moments.

ISBN: 9781786530011
Format: Paperback (188mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 144
Imprint: BookShots
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Black Magick Vol. 1 – Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott

9781632156754Part police procedural, part supernatural thriller, the first volume of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Black Magick is a standout on every level — possibly the best work of their careers — and will leave readers eagerly waiting the follow-up.

Rowan Black is a detective with the Portsmouth Police Department — and a practicing witch. Not the type that dons a black hat and flies on a broomstick; no, contemporary witchcraft is a tad subtler than that. Still, Rowan has always struggled to keep both aspects of her life separate, and when she becomes the target of a mysterious organisation with a keen interest in the supernatural, everything she holds dear comes under threat.

Nicola Scott’s art is the true highlight of Black Magick — which takes nothing away from Rucka’s script, his characterisations, or the overarching plot, all of which are truly stellar — it’s just … wow. Superlatives are reserved for work like this. Scott utilises a unique grey wash, with only slight traces of colour, to great effect; and her panels are hyper-detailed, and her pages effectively constructed, to make this a real pleasure to read. It’s hyperbolic sure, but there’s no question: these pages confirm Nicola Scott’s status as the best artist working in comics.

A gripping page-turner from beginning to end, Rucka and Scott’s first instalment in their “witch noir” series is an absolute blast. They might not have created a new genre, but they sure as hell have redefined it. Forgive the pun, but Black Magick is absolutely spellbinding, and one of the best things I’ve read all year.

Boom

ISBN: 9781632156754
Format: Paperback
Pages: 128
Imprint: Image Comics
Publisher: Image Comics
Publish Date: 3-May-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr

9781784295158.jpgPhilip Kerr is a novelist who has mastered the art of blending fact and fiction, convincing the reader that the events taking place must be real. His mastery of place and dialogue is extraordinary and unrivalled. Every new Bernie Gunther novel is something to look forward to, and The Other Side of Silence ranks right up there with the series’ best, and a must-read for fans new and old.

The war has been over for more than a decade in Philip Kerr’s new book starring former German detective Bernie Gunther. But for a guy who survived that conflict – – who should perhaps be counting his blessings having lived through so much – – is exceptionally weary. In fact, when The Other Side if Silence begins, he is contemplating taking his own life; not that it’s really his life, because in 1956, Gunther is living under a pseudonym and working as a hotel concierge on the French Riviera. The life he knew is over. Now he spends his days trying to stay off the radar and keep out of trouble; purposefully boring and uneventful. But of course, for a man like Bernie Gunther, trouble is never far away, and this time, that trouble takes the form of Anne French, an English writer, and an old wartime acquaintance named Harold Henning, who was responsible for the death of thousands – including one of the loves of Bernie’s life. These two forces pull Gunther into a blackmail plot involving one of Britain’s most famous writers of the 20th century, W. Somerset Maugham, and the Cambridge Spies.

These ingredients make for one of Kerr’s best novels yet.

ISBN: 9781784295158
Format: Paperback  (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 29-Mar-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Heat by Garry Disher

Heat coverThe enigmatic, dangerous Wyatt returns in Garry Disher’s mile-a-minute crime novel The Heat.

Wyatt’s particular set of skills are becoming increasingly archaic. Gone are the days of bank heists and jewellery store robberies; advanced security measures are making it harder, and the goons are getting dumber, strung out on drugs or cocky idiots who hold their pistols sideways, thinking they’re the stars of their own action flicks. Wyatt, by comparison, is a dinosaur; but like everyone else, he needs to work, and thievery is the only profession he knows. So when a reliable contact offers him a job in Noosa to steal a painting for Hannah Sten, Wyatt accepts. It seems simple enough, and he’s done this plenty of times before; case the joint, determine escape routes and failsafes, develop a plan for every potential contingency. It’s a job that requires meticulousness, and that’s what Wyatt does best. But there’s more than one player in this game – and things go wrong very quickly.

Like the best Donald Westlake / Richard Stark Parker capers, Disher plays within the confines of the traditional heist story, and his muscular, hard-boiled prose with a distinct Australian flavour makes The Heatsomething to savour. Packed with nefarious characters, all with their own agendas and secrets, Disher weaves his tale with an assured hand. This is a fast-paced, taut crime story, rife with sharp dialogue and brutal violence. And while Wyatt’s not a character to be admired, he makes for compulsive reading.

With its high body count and intricate plotting, The Heat is perfect beach reading for the summer. Just make sure you pack sunscreen, because once you start, you won’t stop until you’ve turned its final page.

ISBN: 9781925240412
Format: Paperback (234mm x 155mm x 19mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 21-Oct-2015
Country of Publication: Australia